Journal of Neurophysiology

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Direction and orientation selectivity of neurons in visual area MT of the macaque

T. D. Albright


We recorded from single neurons in the middle temporal visual area (MT) of the macaque monkey and studied their direction and orientation selectivity. We also recorded from single striate cortex (V1) neurons in order to make direct comparisons with our observations in area MT. All animals were immobilized and anesthetized with nitrous oxide. Direction selectivity of 110 MT neurons was studied with three types of moving stimuli: slits, single spots, and random-dot fields. All of the MT neurons were found to be directionally selective using one or more of these stimuli. MT neurons exhibited a broad range of direction-tuning bandwidths to all stimuli (minimum = 32 degrees, maximum = 186 degrees, mean = 95 degrees). On average, responses were strongly unidirectional and of similar magnitude for all three stimulus types. Orientation selectivity of 89 MT neurons was studied with stationary flashed slits. Eighty-three percent were found to be orientation selective. Overall, orientation-tuning bandwidths were significantly narrower (mean = 64 degrees) than direction-tuning bandwidths for moving stimuli. Moreover, responses to stationary-oriented stimuli were generally smaller than those to moving stimuli. Direction selectivity of 55 V1 neurons was studied with moving slits; orientation selectivity of 52 V1 neurons was studied with stationary flashed slits. In V1, compared with MT, direction-tuning bandwidths were narrower (mean = 68 degrees). Moreover, V1 responses to moving stimuli were weaker, and bidirectional tuning was more common. The mean orientation-tuning bandwidth in V1 was also significantly narrower than that in MT (mean = 52 degrees), but the responses to stationary-oriented stimuli were of similar magnitude in the two areas. We examined the relationship between optimal direction and optimal orientation for MT neurons and found that 61% had an orientation preference nearly perpendicular to the preferred direction of motion, as is the case for all V1 neurons. However, another 29% of MT neurons had an orientation preference roughly parallel to the preferred direction. These observations, when considered together with recent reports claiming sensitivity of some MT neurons to moving visual patterns (39), suggest specific neural mechanisms underlying pattern-motion sensitivity in area MT. These results support the notion that area MT represents a further specialization over area V1 for stimulus motion processing. Furthermore, the marked similarities between direction and orientation tuning in area MT in macaque and owl monkey support the suggestion that these areas are homologues.